The illusion of the self (continued)

By Matthieu Ricard on April 01, 2009

At every moment between birth and death, the body undergoes ceaseless transformations and the mind becomes the theater of countless emotional and conceptual experiences. And yet we assign qualities of permanence, uniqueness, and autonomy to the self. Furthermore, as we begin to feel that this self is highly vulnerable and must be protected and satisfied, aversion and attraction come into play — aversion for anything that threatens the self, attraction to all that pleases it. These two basic feelings, attraction and repulsion, are the fonts of a whole sea of conflicting emotions.

Out of fear of the world and of others, out of dread of suffering, out of anxiety about living and dying, we imagine that by retreating inside the bubble of ego, we will be protected. We create the illusion of being separate from the world, hoping thereby to avert suffering. In fact, what happens is just the opposite, since ego-grasping is a powerful magnet to attract suffering.

Our grasping to the perception of a ‟self” as a separate entity leads to an increasing feeling of vulnerability and insecurity. It also reinforces self-centeredness, mental rumination, and thoughts of hope and fear, and distances ourselves from others. This imagined self becomes the constant victim hit by life's events.

Where then is the self? It cannot be exclusively in my body, because when I say ‟I am proud,” it is my consciousness that is proud, not my body. So is it in my consciousness? When I say: ‟Someone pushed me,” was it my consciousness being pushed? Of course not. The self obviously cannot be outside the body and the consciousness. The only way out of this dilemma is to consider the self as a mental or verbal designation attached to the body and the consciousness. The self is merely an idea